Jens Voigt: SHUT UP LEGS! MY WILD RIDE ON AND OFF THE BIKE
WITH JAMES STARTT
This engaging autobiography follows the career of cycling hero Jens Voigt through nearly twenty years at the top of the sport. The popular German rider retired from professional cycling in 2014 – but not before breaking the world hour record at the veteran age of forty-three. Voigt is known for pushing himself hard and succeeding against the odds: his specialism was the one-man breakaway. All his most famous racing antics are recounted in the book, which also covers more general aspects of life as a cyclist: team dynamics, training, injuries and crashes, contracts, tactics and the shadow of doping. Several of the chapters discuss more unusual themes for a sporting memoir such as the unification of Germany, which changed the course of Voigt’s career.
When the Wall came down, Voigt was seventeen years old and training at the national sports academy in East Germany. As he explains, the opening of the border brought new possibilities but swept away existing guarantees. Elite athletes in East Germany were funded and housed by the state. After the fall of the Wall, Voigt had the opportunity to look for a place on a professional team anywhere in the world, but his financial security disappeared. He spent the next four years in the German army, waiting to be signed by a professional team. His first contract took him to Australia, the second to France, and then to Team CSC where he helped teammate Carlos Sastre to victory in the Tour de France.
Voigt himself was not light enough to be a serious contender for the Tour, but over the course of his career he won sixty-five other races and gained a huge following because of his can-do approach to riding: famously, after crashing during a race he rode 15 km on a kid’s bike until his team supplied a full-size replacement, and one of his legendary breakaways saw him cycling 140 km on his own while the rest of the peloton tried unsuccessfully to chase him down. Voigt’s exuberance is not limited to his activities on the bike, and ‘Shut up Legs’ is written in his enthusiastic conversational style. As he observes, part of his international appeal lies in his ‘funny German accent’ and his voice can clearly be heard in the text, which he wrote in English with the help of journalist James Startt. An entertaining read for anyone interested in sport.
Ebury Press, 2016, 256 pp.
About the Authors
Jens Voigt is a former professional cyclist who trained in the East German system. His major wins include two individual Tour de France stages, the Deutschland Tour (2006 and 2007), the Tour de Pologne (2008) and the Critérium International on five occasions. In 2014 he set a new hour record to mark his retirement from the sport.
James Startt is an American photographer and writer based in Paris.
This month we look at two recent books with Olympic themes. James McNeish’s ‘Seelenbinder’ travels back to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where a German wrestler is part of a plot to denounce Hitler while the rest of the world listens in. Reinhard Kleist’s ‘An Olympic Dream’ brings to life the story of a more recent athlete: Somali sprinter Samia Yusuf Omar who competed in the 2008 Olympics and then fled her homeland as a refugee.
Seelenbinder: The Olympian Who Defied Hitler
Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2016
German communist and wrestler Werner Seelenbinder was selected to compete at the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he was planning to use his anticipated victory speech to denounce Hitler. In this fictionalized biography James McNeish pieces together his story, analysing the historical evidence and imagining the missing scenes.
An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf
Translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger
SelfMade Hero, 2016
Reinhard Kleist’s latest graphic novel tells the story of young Somali sprinter Samia Yusuf Omar who competed in the 2008 Peking games and travelled as a refugee from Mogadishu via Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya to Europe. Her dream is to compete in the 2012 London Olympics, but her journey ends in tragedy. Kleist’s pared-down style captures Samia’s strength and the horror of her story.
Text: Sally-Ann Spencer
Copyright: Goethe-Institut New Zealand 2016